If there is a silver lining to this lost season, it could come in the middle of next summer.
ESPN reported Tuesday that Major League Baseball is leaning toward 2020 won-loss records determining the 2021 draft order. If that is the case, the Nationals are on their way to a top-5 pick for the first time since 2010 when they selected Bryce Harper No. 1 overall.
Only Pittsburgh, Texas, Boston and Arizona have performed worse this season than the 21-32 Nationals. The Pirates are almost assured of the top pick thanks to their paltry 15 wins. Texas is 19-35. Both Boston and Arizona are 20-34, just 1 ½ games worse than the Nationals. So, Washington still has a chance to move up to as high as second. With seven games remaining, including Tuesday’s doubleheader against Philadelphia, the Nationals are on pace to finish 25-35.
Projecting names for the fifth spot in next year’s draft is currently impossible. Not only is the draft nine months away, but it will also take place a year after no college or high school players took part in a season. Which means next spring will be crucial. Also, long-term team needs could shift over the winter. At the least, Vanderbilt star Kumar Rocker tops most prospect lists.
The Nationals’ farm system is often ranked at or near the bottom of Major League Baseball. The organization did well to draft and promote key players -- Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon -- as well as sign and promote young players -- Juan Soto, Victor Robles, etc. Mike Rizzo also traded numerous starting pitchers -- Lucas Giolito, Jesús Luzardo, Reynaldo López, Duane Dunning -- to fill out a team in contention. The process eventually led to a World Series title. It also cleared out the farm system’s depth.
The Nationals have tried reloading by selecting starting pitchers not just in the first round, but throughout recent drafts. All four first-round picks since 2017 are starting pitchers. One, Seth Romero, pitched in the major leagues this year. Two, Jackson Rutledge and Cade Cavalli, participated in the alternate training site in Fredericksburg. Mason Denaburg, a high school pitcher selected 27th overall in 2018, is again working through shoulder problems. Denaburg has thrown just 20 ⅓ innings in Rookie ball since he was drafted.
That group could be receiving a significant boost next July thanks to this year’s failure.